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Yellowstone in the Backyard: Time to Declare LA's San Gabriel Mountains a National Monument

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As we head into the final days of August, most Americans are looking for one last summer escape. Many people have to travel hundreds of miles to find a refuge from the crush of everyday life. But the 17 million people living in Greater Los Angeles can find wild beauty right in their backyards.

The San Gabriel Mountains rise like a rampart at the edge of the city, safeguarding more than 500,000 acres of mature forests, mountain streams, dramatic waterfalls, and towering peaks that reach over 9,000 feet. These untamed places attract bighorn sheep, mountain lions, and other threatened or endangered species.

Yet this haven is not fully protected from development. Nor is it easily accessible for most Angelenos. To change that, NRDC is calling on President Obama to declare the San Gabriel Mountains a national monument.

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NRDC has a deep commitment to this place. We've had an office in Los Angeles for more than 20 years and established a track record of preserving open space for urban residents. A national monument in the San Gabriels would be a major breakthrough for Angelenos and for all who visit the region.

This stunning landscape would be a treasure anywhere -- I would love to have wild mountains so close to my hometown of New York. But the San Gabriels have even greater value in Los Angeles County, which is one of the most park-poor urban areas in the nation.

The San Gabriel Valley, stretching from Pasadena to Pomona, is especially starved for open space. The valley has a rich array of ethnically diverse communities, but it also has some of the highest rates of childhood obesity and diabetes in the state.

Local leaders and medical experts say opportunities for outdoor exercise would help improve people's health. Yet many find it hard to access the San Gabriels now. The mountains don't have an adequate system of visitors centers, multilingual signs, group campsites, or public transit, and the Forest Service recently had to close down a trail to a popular waterfall area because it couldn't maintain safe conditions.

Declaring the San Gabriel Mountains a national monument would make this natural wonder more accessible. It would welcome more people from all walks of life and maintain the mountains' wild character.

That is why 80 percent of Los Angeles County voters support proposed protections. And that's why so many local groups are calling for permanent protection of the San Gabriels. Supporters range from Amigos de los Rios to the Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council, former Congresswoman Hilda Solis, Congresswoman Judy Chu, and incoming State Senate Pro Tempore Kevin DeLeon. Xavier Morales, the executive director of the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California, said conserving the mountains is part of his group's mission to address "inequities in the environmental conditions that contribute to health disparities among our communities."

National monument status would also preserve several cultural sites, the Old Spanish National Historic Trail and stone circles and rock art left by early Native Americans. These places hold special meaning to local residents, but they're also part of the larger American story, and we own it to future generations to conserve them.

And we owe it to today's children to ensure they have access to wild places that sustain their health and vitality. It's time to create a national monument in the San Gabriel Mountains.

Photo credit: Rennett Stowe

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